A local pastor has just returned from Puerto Rico, one of the many times he has traveled to the U.S. territory since Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20.
Known as “Father Ed” in his home parish of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Slidell, the Rev. Ed Grice leaves each month to join the Army Reserve, 1st Mission Support Command. There, he is Col. Edward Grice, 1st MSC Command Chaplain to the Unit Ministry Team at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico.
The soldiers, though, simply call him “chaplain,” Grice said.
What impressed him after the disaster in Puerto Rico was the “goodwill of the people there. Shortly after, people were rolling up their sleeves doing what they could.”
“Above all, Puerto Ricans and the islanders need our continued prayers to persevere in their recovery efforts. We of south Louisiana know especially how important prayer and perseverance are after a major hurricane makes its pass,” Grice said.
The Metairie native was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 1980, and his vocation has been shaped by both war and natural disasters.
“In my sixth year as a priest, three or four of us were introduced to the idea of becoming a National Guard or Army Reserve chaplain,” he said.
Grice was commissioned as an Army chaplain in 1986 and first served as a Reserve chaplain for a maintenance battalion in New Orleans.
Like any member of the Reserve, Grice serves one weekend a month and at least 14 additional days throughout the year. He is a noncombatant who can be called to deploy anywhere soldiers in the Reserve are sent.
When he was assigned to a Garrison Support Group, the mission was to provide support to thousands of soldiers preparing for deployments to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I served on active duty for 4½ years in various roles,” he said, including as the deputy command position at the installation Chaplain’s Office at Fort Polk.
But as the Archdiocese of New Orleans continued to rebuild and recover following Hurricane Katrina, Archbishop Alfred Hughes called him back for active pastoral duty in 2008, to serve in a church parish. Grice continued to serve as deputy and active command chaplain for the Army Reserve Command in Belle Chasse.
“In 2015, I accepted the command chaplain position of the 1st Mission Support Army Reserve Command at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico,” Grice said. That same year, Archbishop Gregory Aymond assigned him as pastor of St. Margaret Mary in Slidell.
As with any local family or employer with a Reserve or National Guard member, when the member is called to duty, others help carry on their responsibilities. Grice’s parishioners share in the sacrifice necessary for military service if he is not there for an important event or crisis that calls for pastoral care.
Those with military service “recognize what I do and that they have been there,” he said.
Retired priests and priests from neighboring parishes help with Masses and other sacraments. And Grice usually can be reached by email or phone, wherever he is on duty, said Renee Lemoine, his secretary and parish facilitator.
Grice's disaster recovery missions also included the humanitarian response following the earthquake in Haiti. But after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Grice was called to join the 1st MSC.
“I spent 40 days directing and supervising over a dozen chaplains and religious affairs specialists in various forms of ministry to our soldiers and their family members, along with general support to the recovery efforts wherever our soldiers went,” he said.
The hurricane disrupted normal distribution of necessities including food, water and electricity.
“The landscape was shorn, many roads became impassible and drinkable water sources were slim to none,” he said. “Our Army Reserve Command worked tirelessly into late December 2017 distributing water and basic supplies wherever possible.”
They also partnered with members of the Air Force, Marines, the Navy and National Guard, including military police and other members from the Louisiana National Guard.
Grice regularly celebrates Mass on the island in Spanish, the common language there. He is the chaplain to Brig. Gen. Dustin "Dusty" A. Shultz, who he said is “looking ahead because disasters will happen.”
This is Grice’s 32nd year of service, and he plans to retire in August.